Contemplative Prayer : LUSENET : Catholic : One Thread

Hello Everyone,

I am interested to find out people's opinions on contemplative prayer. I have been practising the John Main method for some time now and have been aware of the centering prayer school founded by Abbot THomas Keating as well. I recently found this on the Internet (apologies if the hyperlink has not appeared) and wonder how approving the Church is of these two methods of prayer. Does anyone have any idea of other methods of contemplative prayer if the John Main and Abbot Keating ones are not recommended?

Many thanks, Adrian

-- Adrian Lowe (, September 20, 2003


Does anyone have any idea of other methods of contemplative prayer if the John Main and Abbot Keating ones are not recommended?

The fact that you can find this guy on a related website is very telling. Just my opinion, of course, but I would run, not walk, in the opposite direction.

-- jake (, September 22, 2003.

For an analysis of the problems with centering prayer, please see The Danger of Centering Prayer by the Rev. John D. Dreher.

-- Bill Nelson (, September 22, 2003.

If one wants to advance in prayer, especially mystical prayer, I strongly use them to real well in the great St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but I would not advise the study of these two authors without a trusted Spiritual Director.


-- Bill Nelson (, September 22, 2003.

Bleeding, scarred and dehydrated, Christ moved one foot after another slowly, painfully. With every step His precious feet - those which had walked the vast expanses of Galilee, the very same that were bathed in perfume by Mary Magdalene - scrunched into the jagged rocks along the crude pathway towards Calvary. The soles of His feet bled, the dust caked to it, causing infection and further aches. His hands trembled with pain as he clutched the wood of the cross, the slivers slicing into His palms. His back practically crippled from the weight of the wood, the shoulder bruised and throbbing. Anyone else would have stayed on the ground, especially after having fallen a third time. They would have said 'that's it, let me just die here.' But not Our Lord. He knew He had to carry it out to the end, to suffer even more humiliation and immolation. And why? For us.

"Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15: 13).

Contemplate this' it can help against temptations.

-- Another sinner (meditator@, September 22, 2003.

Hi Adrian,

Father Thomas Dubuy, S.M., has written and taught extensively on the subject of contemplative prayer. His excellent book, Fire Within, is available from Ignatius Press. It is an introduction to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross -- both doctors of the Church, and great Carmelite mystics.

While easy to understand, Fire Within is still indepth enough to prepare one for a deeper study of the works of these two great Saints.

In my experience as a Secular Discalced Carmelite, one usually begins to study St. Teresa's writings by reading her Autobiography, followed by The Way of Perfection. Her most profound work is Interior Castle. John of the Cross is best understood by reading The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul before moving on to his other more sublime works.

Regarding "centering prayer," Father Dubuy has spoken against it on several occasions that I know of. Contemplation is supernatural prayer, and can therefore only be given by God. We cannot "induce" it ourselves by using methods.

Both Teresa and John teach that we can best prepare ourselves by faithfulness to mental prayer (meditation as best we can), humility, detachment from worldly things, charity and abandonment to God.

Hope this helps.

God bless, Patricia

-- Patricia (, September 22, 2003.


I agree with you completely, Patricia, concerning Fr. Dubay. He has made several 13-episode series for EWTN, some of them on prayer -- with emphasis on mental prayer (meditation and contemplation) according to the great Carmelite saints.

Only a few weeks ago, he was interviewed for an hour by Fr. Mitchell Pacwa on "EWTN Live." He talked about many things, including Centering Prayer [CP]. (I think that someone phoned in a question about it.) He listed several reasons for us to avoid it, though he was careful to say that those promoting CP [including Fr. Keating] were well-intentioned.

It meant a lot to me to hear this from an expert like Fr. Dubay, because I have been unsure about CP for more than 15 years. I found out about it in 1985, when I learned that it was being practiced and promoted by a prominent Catholic layman who runs a charitable organization (feeding the hungry, especially in the Caribbean). I had gone to do some volunteer work with this man's apostolate in Florida, and he sought to interest me in CP by giving me a bunch of audiocassettes made by (then) Abbot Keating and another Trappist/Cistercian, Fr. Basil Pennington. After trying CP and listening to the tapes, I came away "smelling something rotten in the state of Denmark." This CP business just didn't "feel" right, so I abandoned it as just another experimental thing that was probably picked up from Eastern Asian non-Christianity.

Since seeing Fr. Dubay on EWTN, I have come across two things:

1. A full-length article entitled 'Is Centering Prayer Contemplation?'

2. The following excerpt from another page (
"Once again, Catholics ... are perplexed by the activities of a local Marian group. In a recent newsletter they aggressively promote the New Age practice called 'centering prayer.' In their defense of this practice they have erroneously identified genuine Catholic mystical forms of prayer as examples of centering prayer. We submit that, while there may be some external similarities between the two (the devil will always use a smidgen of truth to lead people astray), centering prayer in itself is irredeemably non-Christian in both its methods and goals.

"What are these methods and goals? Basically, one is directed to empty oneself of all thoughts, not only a simple clearing away of the mind, but a suspension of the intellect. A mantra is used to this effect. An attempt is made to make Catholics more comfortable with this technique by comparing a mantra to the Rosary, or by suggesting that the name 'Jesus' be used. One must note that in the Rosary we are called upon to actively contemplate upon the Mysteries (a mindless repetition is exactly what Christ referred to when He cautioned us against vain and repetitive prayers). Some may accept that centering prayer has been 'Christianized;' however, the methods of authentic Christian prayer have always been based on a cooperation between God and our intellect and will.

"Many noted Catholic theologians and spiritual directors such as: Fr. Thomas Dubay (an expert on Carmelite spirituality), Fr. Benedict Groeschel (a trained psychologist who, ironically, has been invited by this Marian group to be next year's keynote speaker at their Marian Conference), and Fr. Mitch Pacwa ( a convert from the New Age and centering prayer) -- have cautioned strongly against the use of centering prayer pointing out this utter emptying of the mind (better known as Transcendental Meditation) leading to a void which can likely be taken advantage of by satanic forces. Would Christ place souls in such jeopardy? If it is not of God, where did centering prayer come from?

"Johnette Benkovic ... has devoted an entire chapter in her book, 'The New Age Counterfeit,' to centering prayer. In this book, she quotes Fr. Emile Lafranz, S.J., director of the Center of Jesus the Lord in New Orleans, on the origins of centering prayer: 'I honestly believe it comes from Hinduism. And it is an attempt to reach an altered state of consciousness.' He also cautions, 'I believe it's something that can likewise introduce a person to an evil spirit.'

"An article entitled, 'The Danger of Centering Prayer,' which appeared in the November, 1997 issue of 'This Rock' (published by Karl Keating's 'Catholic Answers' apostolate), included a mother's account of her ten-year-old who had been introduced to centering prayer at a Catholic school: 'About six weeks ago Kristy started having difficulty going to sleep. She didn't want to stay in her own room and would lie there afraid to close her eyes, until I would let her go into her sister's room and sleep with her. Finally she confided in me that she would see something scary if she closed her eyes. A few days ago, she confided that it laughed. Kristy had used the centering prayer on her own at bedtime for some time before this fear started.' The author of the article, Fr. John Dreher goes on to explain: 'What happened to Kristy? The laughter is very characteristic of evil spirits. It would have taken personal contact and prayerful discernment to know for sure. From the description, I would suspect that an evil spirit is harassing her. I would doubt that it has any serious hold on her, unless there was immoral behavior or a special vulnerability in her psychological state. I suspect that her use of centering prayer opened her to evil spirits and harassments.'

"Having pointed out the dangers involved in the centering prayer method itself, we must address its goals. The Marian group's newsletter offers the following passage: 'But in fact its chief purpose is an opening to the Indwelling Trinity, the Divine Presence of God in His Word, Jesus Christ, residing at the core of all creation and at the core of each individual human person.' This is, indeed, a lofty and laudable goal, but to paraphrase a popular billboard, 'Will the road of centering prayer really get you to God's place?' Centering prayer has been documented to lead some to spiritual ruin and yet the Marian group in its September, 1999 newsletter insists that 'To call it "demonic" is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.' This claim is the height of spiritual arrogance, an arrogance which is again characteristic of the evil one and not of the One who calls us to humility and a spirit of self-criticism. Let us pray that a group whose stated purpose is to promote Marian devotion will follow more closely the path of her Son."

Adrian, I have to admit that I have never heard/read anything from the Vatican itself that expresses approval or condemnation of Centering Prayer.

God bless you.

-- J. F. Gecik (, September 23, 2003.

Oh what a great thread, and great post John!! This CP thing IS New Age mumbo jumbo repacked for Christian consumption. We are to worship with our spirits, hearts and MINDS! We must NEVER empty our minds and leave it open to who-knows-what. That is like walking away from your computer in the middle of a document and leaving the keyboard wide-open to anybody or "anything" else.



-- Gail (, September 23, 2003.

Let me contribute this article from the same site:

Centering Prayer Meets the Vatican It is God's choice, not ours whether we enter the sphere of the divine. Part one By Dan DeCelles

"Last December the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of' the Faith warned about the dangers of blending Christian prayer and Eastern methods of meditation (e.g., Zen, Transcendental Meditation and yoga). Although Some Aspects of Christian Meditation does not single out any persons or schools of thought by name, many of its warnings apply to the centering- prayer literature, including the writings of Abbot Keating and his spiritual disciple Father Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. Both have backgrounds in Eastern meditation methods and cite those experiences favorably as instructive for today's Christians."


In Christ, Bill

-- Bill Nelson (, September 23, 2003.

Thanks, Gail and Bill. JFG

-- J. F. Gecik (, September 23, 2003.

Very interesting thread! I had heard of a centering prayer workshop being offered near me, but I'm now re-thinking of going. Thank you for all the good information given here!


-- Carolyn (, September 24, 2003.

St. Teresa of Avila warns against some methods of prayer "which are not inspired by the gospels, which set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity". [sorry don't have the reference quickly}.

The Holy Father {JP 2} addressed the 'new age' thing in Rome at an 'ad limina' visit from some US bishops in May of 1993. Regarding the 'new age movement' he says "it includes some very ambiguous elements which are incompatible with the Christian faith".

He goes on to say "New Age ideas sometimes find their way into preaching, catechesis, workshops, and retreats, and thus influence even practicing Catholics, who perhaps are unaware of the incompatibility of those ideas with the Church's faith. In their syncretistic and immanent outlook, these parareligious movements pay little heed to revelation, and instead try to come to God through knowledge and experience based on elements borrowed from Eastern spirituality or from psychological techniques. They tend to relativize religious doctrine in favor of a vague worldview expressed as a system of myths and symbols dressed in religious language. Moreover, they often propose a pantheistic concept of God which is incompatible with sacred scripture and with Christian tradition. They replace personal responsibility to God for our actions with a sense of duty to the cosmos, thus overturning the true concept of sin and the need for redemption through Christ."

-- Theresa (, September 25, 2003.

In my oppinion, following St. Teresa of Avila's method, which St. John of the Cross expanded on and which someone else in this topic already mentioned, is the way to go. I've been practicing meditation this way, off and on, since I was about 17 years of age and have gone through a few of the "castles of the soul" mentioned in St. Teresa's book The Interior Castle. I think once a person gets along on the way of mental prayer, recollection is the most important thing to cultivate, which allows one to meditate on the omnipresence of God while living a normal, busy daily life. This can be done without the constant guidance of a personal spiritual director since in my oppinion "The Way of Perfection" and "The Interior Castle" (St. Teresa) can be easily read and understood by any adult Catholic. St. John of the Cross is a bit tougher. It is, however, adviseable to have a spiritual director or at least a habit of asking for advice in the Confessional.

-- Psyche +AMDG+ (, September 25, 2003.

Many thanks to you all for your thoughtful responses. I have been feeling that something is 'not quite right' for some time and your replies have confirmed this.

My thanks again,


-- Adrian Lowe (, September 27, 2003.

Hello again everyone,

Has anyone used the Jesus Prayer? If so, do you believe that there is a simularity between this prayer method from the Orthodox Church and Centering Prayer?

Best regards,


-- Adrian Lowe (, September 27, 2003.


Hello, Adrian.
Sometimes I catch myself praying the "Jesus prayer" without having realized that I started. It's something that is addictive and just starts flowing from deep inside. I have read that some of the earliest monks of the East made it a nearly constant chant. It is not really from the Orthodox churches, since it is based on a verse in the Bible and was used by monks for many centuries before the Easterns went into schism (around 1050).

Luke 18:13 -- "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"

From this, some people repeat, "My Jesus, mercy."
Others say, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
And others say [while breathing in], "Jesus, son of the living God ... " [and while breathing out] "... have mercy on me, a sinner."
All of this came much more than a millennium before the Divine Mercy chaplet (which is very nice too)!

God bless you.

-- J. F. Gecik (, September 27, 2003.

I forgot to mention that this is not like Centering Prayer, because it is a form of meditation on the mercy of Jesus. It makes Him -- not us -- the focal point of the devotion and adoration. It is outward-looking, not inward.

-- J. F. Gecik (, September 27, 2003.

It is extremely refreshing to hear your insights into Centering Prayer. I have been looking into Centering Prayer myself for some time now and agree completely with your points. Here is an additional tidbit of information:

Thomas Keating was the President of the Temple of Understanding in 1984. The Temple of Understanding was founded by Lucifer Trust (later renamed to Lucis Trust) which itself was founded by Alice Bailey. Alice Bailey's goal and the orginal purpose of Lucis Trust was to prepare the way for "The Christ" (in their speak - the antichrist). The Temple of Understanding promotes the unification of all religions, with the final purpose of creating a one world- religion (i.e., not Christianity). Further, Thomas Keating, in his own words, has stated (to paraphrase) that - through Christ is NOT the only way to get to Kingdom of God. For Christians/Catholics this statement should raise a red flag. I hope this information is helpful. God bless.

-- Gabo Gaviria (, October 08, 2003.

Other descriptions of the practice of contemplative prayer are explained in Willigis Jager's books "Contemplation a Christian Path", and "The Search for the Meaning of Life".( Keatings books are very good and politically correct for Catholics. There are also many non-Catholic sources.

-- george poggemann (, June 26, 2004.

Keatings books are very good and politically correct for Catholics.

Sorry, I would disagree. Keating's books are not politically correct for Catholics. I would avoid them. There are a lot better Catholic sources.

-- Bill Nelson (, June 26, 2004.

Beware of contemplative prayer. Please note that the popular book, "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren advocates contemplative prayer. Emptying ones mind, repeating mantras......Christans don't need this. We have direct access to the Father through Jesus Christ who is our advocate. New Age techniques are dangerous and should be avoided.

-- Diane Constant Shefveland (, June 27, 2004.

Your last statement is certainly correct. However, contemplative prayer is not a "new age technique", nor does it have anything to do with "emptying one's mind" or "repeating mantras". Catholic Tradition and teaching recognizes three forms of prayer - vocal, meditative, and contemplative. Many of the greatest saints of the Church practiced contemplative prayer daily, and they certainly were not involved in the New Age movement. Your confusing genuine contemplative prayer with new age techniques is understandable though, for much of what is presented as "contemplative prayer" these days, even in supposedly Catholic seminars, workshops and retreats, is a actually a mishmash of contemplative prayer, eastern mysticism, and new age techniques, frequently with more emphasis on the latter than on actual contemplative prayer.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes considerable space to genuine contemplative prayer (sections 2709 through 2724). A few quotes ...

"Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we "gather up" the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us."

"Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more."

"Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty."

"Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ as it makes us participate in his mystery."

-- Paul M. (, June 27, 2004.

Other great books to use as devotions in prayer is Thomas e Kempis' "Imitation of Christ" which is AWESOME and also "Practicing the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence.

Meditation on the mysteries is easy but hard at the same time. Keeping one's mind steady and closing out distractions takes exercise and discipline but the effects are MONUMENTAL, and of course adding fasting to your spiritual exercises are most advantagenous.

As the writers stated above NO Christian should participate in any sort of meditation practice that does not center on the mysteries of our Lord.

Someone above mentioned Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church. I've heard of Rick Warren and only positive things from Protestant corners. I'm surprised to hear someone speak negatively concerning Mr. Warren. Care to elaborate ???


-- Gail (, June 27, 2004.

"Practicing the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence is one of my favorite books!

In Christ, Bill

-- Bill Nelson (, June 29, 2004.

I have been studying a lot of mediative, contemplative, and prayer methods since last December. I fell in love with the Jesus Prayer. I do feel that one must be careful because a lot of mediative and contemplative methods have roots in paganism and satanism. I always ask God's protection and make the sign of the cross before meditating and contemplating on the Jesus Prayer. Anything or anyone that does not focus on scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour and only way to God stay away from it or them. The bible is so true when it says that the devil can appear as an angel of light.

I love the book Imitation of Christ and am looking forward to reading In the Presence of God. Another great book is In Contract with God.

Stay close to the Lord, esme

-- esme (, July 14, 2004.

Me too, Bill.

One thing I have been doing lately which is really working well is to start off with one decade of the Rosary in the morning, then throughout the day meditate on the remaining decades, really chewing on the meaning of the mysteries, singing the Hail Marys and pondering. Then at night, when I'm ready for bed, close the Rosary. That way, I'm sort of in it all day. Of course, it is quite easy while in the Rosary to pull some of the exercises from "Practing the Presence of God" into it! Great combination!

God Bless,


-- Gail (, July 14, 2004.

Other great books to use as devotions in prayer is Thomas e Kempis' "Imitation of Christ" which is AWESOME

***I agree and so is "My Daily Bread" by Anthony J Paone, S. J. put out by Confraternity of the Precious Blood.

God Bless,


-- Jalapeno (, July 15, 2004.

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